Heart Attack Claims Harvey "Gizmo" Rosenberg

We were saddened to learn of the death of audio guru Harvey "Gizmo" Rosenberg, who died Monday, July 16 of an apparent heart attack. He was 59.

Rosenberg fell ill on a plane flight from Chicago to Evansville, IN, where he was headed to audition a new VAIC amplifier design. His hosts reportedly took him to a local medical center where neither the attending physician nor the emergency medical personnel who were called in were able to postpone the inevitable. The circumstances of his death were "consistent with a major myocardial infarction," according to those on the site. Rosenberg was laid to rest Thursday, July 19 at Mount Judah Cemetery in Queens, NY; a memorial gathering was held the following Saturday at the Cutting Room on West 24th Street in Manhattan.

Born in 1941, Rosenberg grew up in suburban Long Island, where he spent his boyhood investigating all things electromechanical. He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business in the early 1960s, a self-described "compressed, repressed preppy." Out of that rigid shell eventually emerged one of the audio industry's most eccentric and entertaining personalities, part shaman, part charlatan, and all heart.

A devotee of engineer Julius Futterman, pioneer of the output-transformerless (OTL) amplifier, Rosenberg made his indelible mark on the high-end industry as owner of New York Audio Labs. In what would become legendary (and typical) Rosenberg style, he shipped each NYAL Moscode amplifier with an adult-size diaper, with instructions for the audiophile to put it on before listening, should an accident ensue. With tongue planted firmly in cheek, he advocated ritual baths and ceremonial robes as enhancements for the listening experience, and was the living embodiment of the ancient wisdom that you get only as much from life as you put into it.

He threw himself fully into his passions—music, audio, motorcycles—and never failed to share that enthusiasm with others. "Harvey was so important to Listener in every way, not only as a writer but as a guide and a mentor. As Janet and I have often observed, Harvey had more good ideas in a day than we'll have in a lifetime of trying," posted Listener editor and publisher Art Dudley on the Audio Asylum website. Combining the male empowerment ideology of poet Robert Bly with the work of anthropologist Joseph Campbell, Rosenberg created his own mythology, ordaining himself a "doctor of gizmology," founding the Triode Guild, and exploring the power of tribal costume with his own unique designs, which frequently consisted of a Scottish kilt, hiking boots, and a headdress festooned with vacuum tubes. Gizmo's inner child was never far away.

He never pulled his punches when it came to expressing his opinions. Although tube amplification and vinyl records were his special interests, Rosenberg had soul enough to embrace music in any format. In Gizmo's view, the compact disc, vilified by analog purists, offered limited listening enjoyment primarily because of lack of imagination in the recording studio. "The reason that 90% of the CDs produced are musical gross-outs is because of artistic and intellectual incompetence of producers and engineers, not because of the inherent limitations of the old digital format," he wrote. "Ninety percent of the people who record and produce music haven't got a clue, or don't care, about music quality because their highest musical standard is 'How Will It Sound On The Radio?' "

An unapologetic advocate for "guy stuff," Rosenberg ventured far and wide on his website and in his 1993 book The Search for Musical Ecstasy. He gave me a copy of this book several years ago. There are sections that still provoke laughter many readings later; as audio humor, his riff on the hypothetical "black hole amplifier" has never been topped. In a field saturated with the overly serious and the self-important, he was always a welcome source of levity, who never hesitated to poke a hole in the balloon of pomposity. Glenn Gould's quote, "There is no genuine musical experience without ecstasy," appears prominently on Gizmo's website. With Harvey Rosenberg, the ecstatic circus was always in town. Future gatherings of the hi-fi faithful will be impoverished by his absence.